Tigers aren't doing much right, but ... - NBC Sports

Tigers aren't doing much right, but ...
Botched relieft pitching, infield errors and lack of overall offense are actually fixable
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Tigers manager Jim Leyland reacts after being thrown out of the game by first-base umpire Chris Guccione, right, as third-base umpire Tim Tschida steps between them in the second inning at Fenway Park on Monday.
May 29, 2012, 6:05 pm

Baseball Expert Tony DeMarco has been covering the big leagues since 1987, and been casting Hall of Fame ballots for the last 14 years. He answers questions weekly here:

Q. What's wrong with the Detroit Tigers?
- Irene, Detroit

A. The Tigers have been maddeningly inconsistent, and apparently, the losses are getting to manager Jim Leyland. In a strange rant to reporters Monday, Leyland vehemently urged them to rip the umpiring crew for blowing a call that triggered a loss to the Red Sox - while also saying (with TV cameras rolling) that he didn't want to rip the umpires. Really, Jim?

But we do feel Leyland's pain, as the Tigers' frustrating first third of the season has been attributable to a handful of what for the most part can be correctable factors:

  • The bullpen is 12th in the AL in ERA, 13th in opponents' batting average and tied for 11th in walks. Eleven relievers already have been used, including four departed ones who posted ERAs of 6.50 and above.
  • Doug Fister missed four starts while on the disabled list, and Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello (both with plus-5.00 ERAs) haven't picked up the slack - as opposed to the surprisingly good beginning to Drew Smyly's big-league career.
  • You knew this was coming: new third baseman Miguel Cabrera has seven errors and first baseman Prince Fielder has six (although it seems like more), and the Tigers are 11th with 33 total errors.
  • And at this point, the supporting cast around Austin Jackson, Cabrera and Fielder has dramatically underachieved. Through Monday, Andy Dirks is the only other regular hitting higher than .252 or with on on-base percentage higher than .331.

Cabrera and Fielder also have sub-.500 slugging percentages, and currently rank 19th and 22nd in the AL in that category - behind Jackson at 14th.

So it's no wonder the Tigers who were supposed to have one of the league's high-powered offenses, are 10th in the AL in runs scored - 70 runs behind the league-leading Rangers - and have a minus-5 run differential.

One more thing to keep in mind is the number of off-the-charts individual performances the Tigers received in running away with the AL Central last season, led by Justin Verlander's AL MVP/Cy Young sweep and Jose Valverde's perfect save streak.

Those types of seasons are tough to duplicate, so falloff has to be expected (although in Verlander's case, probably only in the win category).

Q. Like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, Giants first baseman Brandon Belt was a highly touted prospect, and was supposed to be the Giants' first baseman of the future. But lately, he is looking more and more like Aubrey Huff than Willie McCovey. Is that a product of him being over-hyped, or poorly developed?
- Robert Pyper, Phoenix

A. In fairness to Belt, while he arguably has been the Giants' best position-player prospect besides Buster Posey in recent years, he wasn't nearly as highly regarded as Trout or Harper.

The latter was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, and was the first-overall pick in the 2010 draft as a 17-year-old. The former was a late-first-round pick in 2009 out of a New Jersey high school who immediately became one of the game's elite prospects once he hit the minor leagues. Both are on the way to stardom, possibly super-stardom.

In contrast, Belt was a fifth-round choice out of University of Texas in 2009, and didn't sign until August of that year as a 22-year-old. His prospect status leaped with a huge 2010 season at three stops - Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

But the jump to big leagues has proven to be a little trickier, especially when you throw in the fact that Belt has been moving between left field and first base - never easy to do.

Still, he just turned 24 in April, and sometimes it takes power hitters longer to establish themselves. You also have to factor in how hard it is for left-handed hitters not named Barry Bonds to hit home runs at AT&T Park.

So it's way too early to label Belt a chronic disappointment - even if it's taking him longer to get it going than the Giants would like.


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